Top 10 Time Travel Movies
Looked at one way, all movies are about time travel: you go into a dark room and come out two hours later into a grim nightmarish future where everyone’s been making fun of you on the internet for the last two hours because someone saw you going into a screening of Tinker Bell: Secret of the Wings. But as this is only a top ten movie list and not a top hundred million movie list, let’s just look at movies that are actually ABOUT time travel, OK? And no, the quick-change dress montage in 27 Dresses does not involve time travel, no matter how long it feels.
Back to the Future
These days the time travel element of Back to the Future isn’t in watching Marty McFly go back to 1955 and invent rock’n roll while managing to not sleep with his own mother – it’s in you travelling back to 1985 and watching what was (if you don’t count Ferris Buller’s Day Off) pretty much the best of that decade’s “kick-ass teen” movies. Seriously, what happened to teen movies? The 80s were full of teens struggling to grow up and be cool and making a real life Kelly LeBrock out of a barbie doll while wearing a bra on their head, while today they’re either trying to sleep with a vampire or murdering each other for the amusement of adults. Which was supposedly a deleted sequence from The Breakfast Club.
At the other end of the '80s time travel spectrum is this, the best movie ever made. All time travel movies have to admit at some stage they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, but has any film ever done it better than when Kyle Reese tells a bunch of about-to-be-terminated LA cops that he’s from “one possible future… from your point of view… I don’t know tech stuff” before following up with “I didn’t build the fucking thing”? Plus it’s now illegal to wake up after a big night without muttering “what day is it – the date?… WHAT YEEEEAR?”
There’s also a killer robot, sexy sex, heavily metaphorical answering machine messages and Arnold Schwarzenegger being visibly naked in the DVD version. Not to mention the Tech Noir, AKA the best night club ever put on film. You do realise that “you got me burning” song is foreshadowing the part where the Terminator gets burnt up in a truck explosion, right? Or maybe it’s just a great excuse for some serious elbow dancing, either way works.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
A couple of dumb LA guys—that’s Bill S Preston esquire and Ted “Theodore” Logan to you— need to pass their history assignment if they’re to become the saviours of the future, so someone from the future comes back in time to lend them a time machine to check out history as it happens. Wait, forget what I said about Back to the Future - THIS was the best “kick-ass teen” movie of the 1980s. Did anyone in Back to the Future call Socrates “So-crates”? No? Case closed. Come to think of it, if Steven Spielberg’s upcoming movie Lincoln doesn’t feature The Great Emancipator saying “Party on dudes”, it’ll be totally bogus.
The Butterfly Effect
The problem with going back in time is, if you change one thing in the past, that one thing could have massive repercussions in the future… which is, let’s not forget, your present. For example, making a movie about how going back in time and changing one thing which cases massive repercussions in the future (which is your present), could lead to a future where your movie career dies in the arse and you end up having to follow Charlie Sheen in Two and a Half Men. But on the plus side, this is a movie where you get to see Aston Kutcher repeatedly screw up his life while trying to fix it in much the same way as you’d imagine the real-life Kutcher would screw up pretty much everything he tried to fix, including a kettle, breakfast and sticking a poster on a wall.
This short film by Chris Marker is made up entirely (apart from one brief scene) of black and white photos detailing how a man’s obsession with a single image from his childhood—seeing someone die at an airport—enables him to travel back in time from a devastated future Paris. It’s one of the best science-fiction films ever made and would easily be the best time-travel film ever made if not for the fact that it was later re-made as the merely okay Twelve Monkeys, which gives away pretty much all the twists while having roughly one-fifth the power of the original. The remake did have good bug-eye acting from Brad Pitt though.
No doubt other movies did it first, but this is still the film that made popular the idea that if you travelled in time and your past self and future self touched you’d both die horribly. Which is pretty brilliant for an idea that makes no sense whatsoever. After all, do identical twins die when they touch each other? No. In fact, according to a number of pornographic films, the exact opposite happens. Bonus hilarity for “in the year 2004 time travel is a reality”, because of course that isn’t true – unless it WAS true but then that timeline was erased by even more future future cops, except that Future Cop was a completely different (but actually pretty good) movie where Tim Thomerson said the immortal line “dry hair’s for squids” and maybe I shouldn’t have watched twelve time travel movies in a weekend God my head hurts.
Isn’t Déjà Vu kind of an arty-farty title for a movie where Denzel Washington uses time travel to beat up terrorists? Presumably this was called Déjà Vu and not the much more obvious Out Of Time because Washington had already made a non-time-travel thriller called Out Of Time, which is almost as annoying as David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers not being able to be called the much more suitable Twins because of the Arnold Schwarzenegger / Danny DeVito film. Or Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas not being able to be called Wise Guy because of the TV show. Someone should make a time travel movie where Denzel Washington goes back in time and sorts those titles out.
Anyway, this is about a device that can see four days into the past, which leads to an amazing scene where Denzel Washington takes one of the time viewing devices and drives around chasing a car he can see driving down the streets… only the car was driving around four days ago, which basically means he’s driving around following a GPS dot. Someone was paid a million dollars to think that up.
Peggy Sue Got Married
Oddly, while there are plenty of “what would you do if you were suddenly young today” movies around (usually involving some kind of body swap or turning into Zac Efron), there aren’t that many “wouldn’t it be awesome to send your mind back in time so your teenage self knows everything you do now”, presumably because that’s a slightly longer sentence and no-one wants to confuse the Hollywood money-men. No wait, it’s because this film – which is about Kathleen Turner’s adult mind going back into her teenage body, cue teen boys getting nervous because hey, a grown woman has needs - features Nicolas Cage and Jim Carrey acting together as tough-guy teens, which makes all following movies and pretty much anything else you might think of to amuse yourself obsolete.
Time After Time
It’s H.G. Wells Time Traveller versus Disco Jack the Ripper in 1979 San Francisco! It’s a wonder they even bothered to make the actual movie considering they could’ve charged people five dollars just to read the previous sentence. Written and directed by the guy who’d go onto to make Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, which was basically the same movie except the people wandering around San Francisco freaking out at the hippies and free love were from the future instead of the past.
What makes this – and not, say, Time Bandits, Timecrimes, Somewhere in Time, The Lake House, The Time Traveller’s Wife, Frequency or Donnie Darko – the best time travel movie ever is that this is a movie about what time travel would really be like: it would totally do your head in. Basically, a bunch of tech start-up nerds accidentally invent a time machine (the kind where you can only go back in time to the point when you switched it on) and then proceed to make a total mess of roughly a million timelines as they keep double-crossing each other and coming back and fixing problems other versions of themselves didn’t even know they had. It’s a brilliant film and a real classic, but if you try to put together the timelines in your head, your head will (no-joke) explode.